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Fantasy Forecast: 2021 Dallas Cowboys

@ChrisSmithUSN gives us the lowdown on one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL

Last season, several members of the Dallas Cowboys were on pace to have outstanding fantasy seasons. Quarterback Dak Prescott was injured in week five, derailing the pace. Here’s where notable stars were ranked as well as where they finished in PPR format.

  • Dak Prescott: QB4 /QB33 (Injured)
  • Ezekiel Elliott: RB3 /RB9 
  • Amari Cooper: WR8 /WR15
  • Ceedee Lamb: WR11 /WR22
  • Michael Gallup: WR33 /WR38
  • Dalton Schultz: TE12 /TE11

What a difference a star quarterback can make. The good news is that all indications for Prescott are that he ahead of schedule and should be at 100% by the time training camp starts.  So can we just pencil in the historic finish the offense was on pace for in 2020? Not so fast. 

A big reason the 2020 version of the Dallas Cowboys were on such a breakneck scoring pace was to cover up for its historically bad defense. This offseason has seen the team making schematic improvements by hiring Dan Quinn to replace Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator. They also used Free Agency and the Draft to add significant talent to that side of the ball. So while the defense may not be terrific in 2021, it likely won’t be among the worst in NFL history. 

So what can we expect from the Cowboys players on our fantasy teams?

QUARTERBACK

Courtesy of Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As last season showed us, Prescott is the engine that makes the offense go. His return to health makes him a top-five player at the position in any format. The improved defense likely means he won’t be on pace for the absurd 6,500 pass yards he was in 2020. But a finish pushing 5,000 pass yards in a 17 game season is within the realm of possibility. If his ankle is healthy enough to allow him to return to scoring rushing touchdowns as well (he scored 18 in his first 3 seasons as a pro), he could realistically finish as the QB1 overall this season. 

RUNNING BACKS

On the other hand, an improved defense could stand to benefit running back Ezekiel Elliott in the form of more rushing opportunities. Although Elliott finished as RB9 overall last season, he was RB24 from Prescott’s injury on. Many dynasty players now see Zeke as “washed” and are looking to move on from him. If that’s the case in the league you play in, go acquire him as a one-year rental. He was missing his quarterback and four of his five starting offensive linemen at different points through the season.

All reports from camp indicate Elliott has worked hard this offseason. As a result, he looks more explosive than he typically does this early in the season. Even if his rushing volume doesn’t increase from last season’s pace, the return of Prescott to the lineup should ensure plenty of scoring opportunities. Zeke feels like a near-lock to finish as an RB1 in 2021. If you can acquire him, Elliott feels like a massive buy this year. 

The other Dallas running back of note, Tony Pollard, is one of the great handcuffs to own in all of football. He has little standalone value but is talented enough to be a valuable contributor if he ever gets consistent playing time in Dallas.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Courtesy of Dallas News

Despite the (much deserved) hype around the other Dallas pass catchers, the position starts and ends with Amari Cooper. Here’s how Cooper has finished when he’s played with a healthy Prescott:

  • 2018 ( 9 games): WR9
  • 2019 (12 games): WR7
  • 2020 ( 5 games): WR8

When he and Prescott are healthy, Cooper has proven to be a true WR1 by all measures. At only 27, he could have another 3-5 years of WR1 production ahead of him. The ascent of Ceedee Lamb likely makes Cooper fairly cheap in most leagues, and if he’s cheap in your league, I would rush to buy him before that changes.

Ceedee Lamb for his part was also extremely productive as a rookie wide receiver in 2020. He had some drop issues but I see those as being easily corrected in year two. The question here is can the Dallas offense support an RB1 and two WR1s and I believe the short answer is yes.  If Lamb continues his growth as a player, there is no reason why he shouldn’t keep putting up borderline WR1 numbers. Any volume decrease should be made up for by increased scoring opportunities. 

The odd man out is likely Michael Gallup, the fourth-year player with a 1,100-yard season on his resume. Even with Dak on the roster, Gallup was often overlooked for Cooper and Lamb. He was WR33 at the time of Prescott’s injury. It appears likely that Gallup could be on a new team in 2022, and as such, I would suggest adding Gallup to your team while he’s cheap. Gallup may be back to his 2019 level of play on a new team with more opportunity. I wouldn’t count out all three of Dallas’ top three receivers could all go over 1,000 yards in 2021. But if one misses the mark, it will likely be Gallup.

TIGHT ENDS

Courtesy of Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Tight end is one of the murkier positions on the Cowboy’s offense. Blake Jarwin began the year as the starter after a strong finish to the 2019 season, but was injured early and missed the season. Dalton Schultz took over and played his way to a TE11 finish. If either guy were the undisputed starter, they would be a promising mid-round starting tight end in any format. As it stands now, they will likely split duties, making both nothing more than late-round fliers with a TD upside.

CONCLUSION

The Cowboys are one of the few teams in the NFL with multiple elite players on offense, particularly for fantasy. With Prescott at the helm, they could have a QB1, RB1, and several WR1/WR2s. Add in a potential TE1 if one emerges, and the Cowboys could have the best fantasy offense in the league.

For more of this content and so much more including our prospect film room (my favorite feature) click here to join the #NerdHerd.

You can find me on Twitter (@ChrisSmithUSN), scouting Quarterbacks at www.theunfilteredsportsnetwork.com and of course here at DynastyNerds.

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